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News | March 25, 2024

59th Medical Wing collaborates with Mayo Clinic to develop a temporary vascular shunt for vascular injury and disease

By 59th Medical Wing Science & Technology

The 59th Medical Wing, the U.S. Air Force’s largest medical wing and functional medical command for Joint Base San Antonio, announced it has entered into a patent license agreement with Mayo Clinic to develop an advanced temporary vascular shunt for the operative management of vascular injury and vascular disease.

Temporary vascular shunts have been used in the management of different blood vessel diseases and injuries for several decades. One of the most recognized shunt devices was developed by a Mayo Clinic surgeon, Dr. Thoralf M. Sundt, in the late 1960s. Although Dr. Sundt was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served in the Army, he originally developed a vascular shunt for use during elective carotid artery operations at Mayo Clinic and in other civilian centers.

The large number of vascular injuries during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars between 2001 and 2015 led military surgeons to expand the use of vascular shunts. In these cases, surgeons did the best they could to use existing devices, such as the Sundt shunt, that had been designed for civilian use.  Although the devices worked, military surgeons recognized that a new design could increase the effectiveness of the vascular shunt.

In 2005, Air Force surgeons at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas went to work designing a new type of vascular shunt that was easier to insert and one that had a larger lumen to accommodate more blood flow and a side port for pressure measurement and downstream infusion. Working with Department of Defense medical research programs, the team of Todd Rasmussen, Shaun Gifford and Jerry “JR” Spencer patented this new type of shunt aiming to develop a device that would be easier and more effective for surgeons treating difficult cases of vascular trauma. They also recognized this new shunt might be useful in the operative treatment of civilian disease conditions such as carotid artery blockages.

The Air Force formed a team led by Mr. JR. Spencer that collaborated with private and public device development partners to create prototypes of the new shunt from the original patent. Collaboration with civilian and military labs allowed the Air Force to conduct pre-clinical studies, improve the design, and show the technology’s viability compared to shunts already on the market. Despite progress, the Air Force and Department of Defense were not optimally positioned to take this new device through its final design iteration, human studies, and commercialization. As Chief Scientist of the 59th Medical Wing, Dr. Debra Niemeyer noted “Even though this new design for a multifaceted shunt was proven successful for trauma response, the limited number of commercial applications dissuaded investors from licensing the patent from the Air Force. We recognized that for the final phases of device development and commercialization the effort would benefit from collaboration with a leading civilian organization that was experienced with surgical device innovation.”

As such, in December 2023 the 59th Medical Wing Office of Research and Technology Applications (ORTA) established a Patent License Agreement with the Department of Surgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota to co-develop a commercially available temporary vascular shunt kit for military and civilian use. This collaboration was facilitated by one of the original shunt designers, Dr. Todd Rasmussen, who retired from the Air Force in 2021 to join the staff at Mayo Clinic. Dr. Rasmussen had a distinguished military career as a surgeon during which he deployed multiple times to Iraq and to Afghanistan. Having completed his medical degree and vascular surgery fellowship at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Rasmussen had the opportunity to meet and talk with Dr. Thor Sundt in the early 1990s.

Dr. Rasmussen’s experience treating wartime vascular injury, his background and surgical practice at Mayo Clinic and his knowledge of the Department of Defense medical research and development programs is imperative to this current initiative.

For more information about this collaboration and technology, please contact the 59th Medical Wing Office of Research and Technology Applications (ORTA) at or visit their website at
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